Shelley Engel (USA)

Photo by Matt Barber

1991 Buckeye Classic: 3rd AA (12-14 age group)
1991 Fiesta Bowl
1991 Winter Holiday Classic
1991 US Classic: 5th AA
1991 US National Championships: 11th AA, 3rd BB
1991 Olympic Festival: 1st AA, 2nd BB, 1st FX
1991 US World Team Trials: 11th AA
1991 Chunichi Cup: 16th AA
1991 Tokyo Cup

Born in July of 1976, Shelley began gymnastics when she accompanied a friend to a free trial lesson at SCATS. Shelley's interest in gymnastics was sparked, and her parents signed her up for lessons. At age 10, Shelley showed enough potential to train with Don Peters (the 1984 U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics coach) and his group of pre-elite and elite gymnasts.

Shelley became part of a new training program that Peters had recently developed. In short, Peters believed that gymnasts were competing too early. Under his new plan, Shelley would experience only a few "test" competitions until reaching age 15, at which point she would compete regularly in senior elite competitions.

Shelley ended up missing the planned "test" competitions due to a combination of injury and illness. One competition was missed because of a massive tumor in her neck. The tumor, luckily not malignant (cancerous), developed virtually overnight. Although the tumor was removed successfully, Shelley suffered from complications from the anesthesia. She took several months to recover. More "test" competitions were missed when Shelley was diagnosed with a bone disorder (osteochondritis desecannes) in her left knee. Again, Shelley spent several months recovering from surgery.

Becky Bowers (left) and Shelley Engel (right), aged 9, pose after a gym meet. Becky went on to compete for the U. of Arizona. Photo courtesy of Shelley Engel.

Shelley entered the 1991 season a virtual unknown. At the 1991 Buckeye Classic, Shelley "turned some heads" when she placed third in her age division (12- to 14-year-olds). A fifth place finish at the 1991 US Classic confirmed Shelley's place in US gymnastics and convinced Shelley that she had a legitimate shot of making the 1991 US World Championship team.

While training for the 1991 US World Championship team trials, Peters decided to give Shelley some more experience in competition. As Shelley explained to Keith McCaffety of the Flying Squirrels, "I was training for the World Team Trials and we weren't even going to do the Olympic Festival. But since it was in L.A.., Don decided to do it for fun. I was only training compulsories. I had never won anything like first place before, and I didn't think I was going to win it because I fell on bars." Even though she fell on her Jaeger series and scored only a 9.10, her overall total (38.525) outscored the other competitors.

Given her win at the 1991 Olympic Festival, Shelley became one of the favourites for a spot on the USA's 1991 World Championships team. Unfortunately, Shelley had a bad meet (she finished 11th AA). Of course, the unfavourable meet conditions did not help (trials were held in a hotel ballroom over a 5+ hour period).

Shortly after trials, in December 1991, Shelley was offered to represent the US overseas in Japan at the Chunichi and Tokyo Cups. Faced for the first time with a field of top international competitors, Shelley experienced some nerves. She faltered, placing a disappointing 16th AA at the Chunichi Cup. Unfortunately, illness and injury hampered any progress that Shelley hoped to make following this meet.

A bout of pneumonia kept Shelley bedridden for several weeks in January. Immediately after returning to the gym, Shelley began to complain of back pain. The diagnosis: two fractured vertebrae (L4 and L5) and three herniated disks (L4, L5, and S1). Shelley tried to continue against the doctors' orders, but the pain was incredible. Miraculously, despite very little training and in light of her severe injuries, Shelley managed managed to compete in the 1992 and earn the last (20th) spot on the 1992 US National team. After Nationals the pain grew worse; Shelley was diagnosed with four more fractures. She was ordered to stay away from gymnastics for at least one month. This time she followed orders...and more. After one month off, Shelley announced her retirement from gymnastics. Shelley does not regret her decision to retire, telling me "I am glad I left when I did. I got to enjoy a few years of High School."

Shelley Engel in Recent Years
Photo courtesy of Shelley Engel

After graduating (from San Jose State University), Shelley earned a teaching certificate and began teaching second grade at Tom Matsumoto elementary school. For a brief while Kerri Strug taught at the same school.

In addition to teaching, Shelley often helps out at West Valley Gymnastics (home gym of Amy Chow) in Campbell, California. When Shelley said farewell to competitive gymnasts, she was "very burned-out and heart broken." She never thought she'd want to return to the sport of gymnastics in any capacity, but the supportive atmosphere at West Valley changed her attitude.

Shelley was married June 29, 2003. Husband Chris is the assistant coach for Stanford University's women's gymnastics team.

Many thanks to Shelley for providing me with me wonderful information and photos.

. This page was created August 2002 and last updated June 23, 2007.